The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported testimonies from female soldiers tasked with monitoring the border with the Gaza Strip, who claimed they had warned of unusual activities along the border for several months before the October 7th attack. However, their warnings were “ignored” by senior commanders, with some attributing this to “gender bias.”
Times of Israel, translating Haaretz’s Hebrew report, relayed a testimony from a female soldier in the surveillance unit who said, “If the soldiers had been men, things would have been different.” Another soldier expressed concerns about being left as “easy prey” for “terrorists.”
These female soldiers, often referred to as “the army’s eyes,” provide real-time intelligence to field soldiers 24/7, using a variety of cameras, sensors, and maps. They are expected to be thoroughly familiar with every small detail within a 15-30 kilometer area they are responsible for monitoring.
Once these soldiers gather relevant information, it is passed up the chain of command, including to intelligence officials who then determine the necessary actions.
Weeks before Hamas’s attack on October 7th, these soldiers reported activities along the Gaza border, including visible training activities.
Soldiers from the Border Defense Corps told Haaretz they believe “gender bias played a role in their warnings being overlooked.” One soldier, who remained unnamed, mentioned that the unit “is entirely composed of young girls and young leaders.”
Another soldier, identified only as “Ilana,” told Haaretz that they observed Hamas training to take over a surveillance post and noticed unusual drone activities.
Ilana detailed that for the last two months, drones were sent daily, sometimes several times a day, near the border, sometimes as close as 300 meters to the fence. She emphasized that the soldiers sent warnings to the command chain that Hamas was training for an attack, but these were ignored.
When the attack began, “terrorists” used drones to strike their positions using the same methods observed during training.
Another unnamed soldier reported seeing people in Gaza making a replica of the Merkava tank used by the army.
Senior security officials did not alert the soldiers about a potential infiltration on October 7th.
Yara, a soldier, said, “If we had known about this warning, this entire disaster would have been different… The Israeli army left us an easy target.” She added, “At least the (Israeli) fighters carried weapons and died like heroes. The army abandoned the surveillance soldiers, and they were simply killed without any chance to defend themselves.”
This report was not the first narrative from surveillance soldiers at the Nahal Oz base, south of Israel. Earlier reports by the public broadcasting corporation “Makan” and Channel 12 had also mentioned their warnings were not taken seriously.
Times of Israel, in a report published on October 27th, noted that months of warning signs observed by the surveillance soldiers “were dismissed by intelligence officials as unimportant,” according to recent eyewitness accounts.
At least three months before the attack, soldiers serving at the Nahal Oz base reported signs of unusual movements along the already troubled Gaza border, just one kilometer away from them. These included several daily training sessions by Hamas activists and the placement of explosives along the border. Soldiers’ reports were not acted upon, as per their testimonies.
In a report by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority “Makan,” soldiers Ya’el Rotenberg and Maya Desyatnik recounted their experiences in the months leading up to the attack, up until 6:30 AM on Saturday, October 7th.
Rotenberg often observed many Palestinians in civilian clothing approaching the border fence with maps, examining the ground around the fence. Once, when she relayed this information, she was told they were farmers, and there was no cause for concern.
Rotenberg was asleep when the attack started. Among the surveillance soldiers who were in the living quarters that morning, she was the only survivor.
Desyatnik, who was on duty, was the other soldier at the base who wasn’t killed or kidnapped.
She expressed frustration to the Broadcasting Authority about the intelligence failure: “It’s infuriating. We saw what was happening, told them about it, and we were the ones who got killed.”
Desyatnik recalled that Hamas fighters trained non-stop at the border fence. Initially, it was once a week, then daily, and then almost continuously.
In addition to reporting on the frequency of these trainings, she gathered evidence on the content of the training, which included how to operate a tank and how to cross into Israel through a tunnel. With increasing activity at the border, she realized it was “just a matter of time” before something happened.
Former soldiers Amit Yeroshalmy and Noa Melman corroborated the survivors’ accounts in an interview published by Channel 12 on Thursday morning.
Yeroshalmy, who completed her mandatory military service a month before October 7th, noticed increased activity along the Gaza border in the months leading up to her discharge.
Speaking to Channel 12, she said, “We sat in shifts and saw a convoy of small trucks. We watched the training, where people were shooting, rolling, and training to take over a tank. The training moved from once a week to twice a week, from every day to several times a day.”
She described observing patrols along the border, people carrying cameras and binoculars, within 300 meters of the fence. “There was a lot of commotion, people going down to the fence and blowing up a huge amount of explosives. The amount of explosives was insane.”
Like Rotenberg and Desyatnik, Yeroshalmy said she passed the information to the relevant authorities, but it seems no one took it seriously.
“I saw what was happening, wrote everything down on the computer, and passed it on. I don’t know what happened with this information; we actually don’t know what they do with this information,” she said.
Melman, who completed her mandatory service about nine months earlier, told Channel 12 that even then, there were signs of what was coming, including a model of the border fence Hamas had set up to repeatedly train its militants to blow up the border and cross to the other side.
“Our leaders asked us to report what we saw, but everyone treated it as normal, as routine,” she said.